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(Author’s note: This is the prequel to “Here with Me” and explains how Doug and Elizabeth got together.)
Chicago. The Windy City. Sinatra’s kinda town. Home of the Cubs and “da Bearss.”
It’s early June and the city is crowded, more so than usual because of a large oncology conference in progress at McCormick Place. Doctors and nurses walk the seemingly endless exhibit hall floor viewing posters, picking up literature, and talking with pharmaceutical sales reps and executives at the exhibit booths to obtain information on cancer-fighting drugs and free tchotchkes — miniature bottles of hand sanitizer, pens, note pads, and highlighters, all of which are branded with each company’s respective logos.
Elizabeth stands in front of the Nexys Pharmaceuticals booth, chatting with one of the physicians from her region and discussing the efficacy rates of Nexys’s newest cancer drug. When he leaves, stuffing his brand new Nexys ball-point pen into his meeting bag, Elizabeth smiles at her colleague Robin, who is restocking promotional brochures nearby. “I swear, every time I meet with him he tries to look down my shirt!” she laughs. “And I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve caught him looking at my ass!”
“I have docs like that too,” Robin replies, also with a laugh. “Harmless perverts is all they are.”
Elizabeth and Robin, coworkers for almost two years and now friends, are a study in contrasts. Robin is tall and curvy, with thick wavy dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and perfectly white teeth, while Elizabeth is short and very pretty, with a slender, athletic build, light brown hair and huge whiskey-colored eyes. Both are very popular among the doctors in their region — Robin for her intelligence and sparkling wit, Elizabeth for her charm and vivacity.
“Either of you know what time it is?” Dan, another Nexys sales rep asks as he approaches them. “My watch battery seems to have died.”
“Quarter to five,” Robin informs him after a quick glance at her watch.
“Thank God,” Elizabeth sighs. She’s been manning the booth since ten that morning; up at seven to work out in the hotel gym, a quick breakfast with the Director of Product Management from Corporate East, then standing on her feet most of the day (with a quick lunch break) discussing the merits of doxocil and pushing Nexys-branded note pads and pens onto doctors and nurses.
“Hey,” Robin wants to know, “aren’t those guys from the Atlanta region?” She points out two men, Nexys representatives as well, who are looking at Nexys’s booth.
“Philip is,” Dan replies, indicating the slender man in a dark gray suit, white shirt, and blue tie. Philip’s not the most conventional-looking sales rep, given his slightly longish dark blond hair with floppy bangs, neatly-trimmed beard and mustache. “I don’t know about the other guy.”
“That’s Doug. I believe he’s DC,” Elizabeth informs them. She smiles as the two men walk towards the booth. “Hi, Philip,” she says as she extends a nicely manicured hand to the man reaching her first.
“Elizabeth. Always a pleasure,” Philip replies smoothly as he takes her hand in his. “I believe you remember Doug.”
“I do … hello there,” Elizabeth says, focusing her attention on Doug, who smiles as he shakes her hand. “Lovely to see you again,” he tells her. “December in Orlando, right?”
She nods and says, “Blood cancer meeting. You’ve got a good memory.” I’m flattered you remembered me, she wants to tell him but won’t.
It helps when you’re the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen, he thinks but dares not say out loud.
Doug and Elizabeth had first encountered each other at this very same meeting in Chicago two years ago, and occasionally ran into each other at various conventions and Nexys-sponsored special events. Elizabeth had found herself very attracted to the muscular sales representative with closely-shaved black hair, pale green eyes, and an infectious smile. He had an oddball sense of humor, a seemingly endless supply of energy, and an appealing personality.
Unfortunately Elizabeth had been engaged at the time they’d met, otherwise she’d have made a play for him in a very big way.
What she didn’t know was the attraction had been mutual.
And still is.
* * *
Doug observes Elizabeth from the corner of his eye as she laughs at something Philip says, and then joins her colleagues inside the booth to grab her personal things before leaving for the day. She still looks amazing, he muses, barely able to suppress a smile as the hem of her tailored navy blue skirt rides up when she crouches to pick something up off the floor, revealing an expanse of incredibly toned thigh. Philip moves so he too can get a good look at Elizabeth’s legs, which are fairly long for such a petite woman.
Doug had met Elizabeth at a physicians’ dinner hosted by the then head of product management at a popular restaurant on Rush Street. Somehow he’d managed to sit with her that night — there had been a stampede of male doctors and sales reps towards illegal bahis the table she’d chosen. He watched her as she chatted and laughed and grinned over dinner, and he could have sworn her eyes settled on him more than on the others at the table. Then she smiled again, a long slow smile that he could have sworn was for him only, and he felt he could die a happy man.
Then he noticed the large emerald-cut diamond sparkling merrily on her left hand.
He found out she was staying at a hotel right around the corner from his, and at the end of the night offered to walk her back to it. “I’d like that,” she replied with a grin. “It’s a nice night for a walk.” So he took her by the elbow and led her onto Rush Street. “I love Chicago,” he told her.
“Me too,” she replied. “Unfortunately the only time I get to come here is for business.”
They continued to make small talk during the seven-block walk. “Do you have time for a nightcap?” he asked her as they approached the entrance of her hotel.
“I’d love one, but I really should get to my room and call my fiancé; he doesn’t like when I travel, and he gets paranoid when I’m out too late.”
Crestfallen, Doug replied, “That’s okay. I understand,” yet he made no move to leave, and neither did she. They both stood there in silence until Elizabeth finally said, “Thank you for seeing me back here, Doug. I really appreciate it.”
“It was my pleasure, Elizabeth.” He extended his hand and she took it, clasping it a beat longer than necessary, then said, “Good night, Doug.”
“Good night.” He watched her enter the hotel and disappear into the lobby, then turned and headed off to his hotel.
Elizabeth, for her part, hesitated halfway to the bank of elevators; impulsively she turned, hoping that Doug was still outside.
He was gone.
She then thought of calling his hotel to see if the offer of an after-dinner drink still stood, but dismissed that as a stupid idea. With a rueful shake of her head, she slunk off to the elevators.
Once safely back in her room she called her fiancé Chris. He didn’t answer his home phone, so she tried his mobile.
No answer there either, so she left a message letting him know she was back in her room and to please not call back too late.
With a deep sigh, she looked around the silent room, her home away from home for these next few days … then she found herself ardently wishing that Doug was with her.
And had she known why Chris wasn’t at home or answering his mobile (he was at an old girlfriend’s house — unbeknownst to Elizabeth he’d been fooling around behind her back for a couple of months at that time), she would have called Doug.
* * *
“Where’re you guys staying?” Elizabeth asks Philip and Doug as the five sales reps join the line waiting at the taxi stand.
“The Marriott on Michigan Avenue,” Doug tells her.
“So are we,” Robin chimes in. “It’s a very nice property, isn’t it?”
“You can never go wrong with a Marriott,” Elizabeth comments. “Shall we share a cab, if we can get one big enough for the five of us? Save the company money?”
“Why not?” Philip replies. “More money in the kitty for Steve Taylor’s monogrammed Brooks Brothers dress shirts.” Steve Taylor is the head of Nexys, and receives an insanely high salary for his leadership abilities. They all laugh at this, and after a ten-minute wait they climb into a yellow minivan; Robin, Philip and Dan climb into the back seat, and Elizabeth and Doug sit in the middle one. “The Marriott on the Mag Mile, please,” Elizabeth tells the driver as Doug pulls the door shut behind them.
Elizabeth’s left hand reaches up to pat her hair in place; when she does so Philip notices that she is no longer wearing her diamond engagement ring. He debates whether or not to mention anything to her about it, or ask her what led to the breakup; instead he pulls out his BlackBerry and sends Doug a text. He knows that Doug, his friend since college has had a thing for Elizabeth from the day they met.
Philip really can’t blame Doug, though. He has to agree that Elizabeth’s one of the prettiest women he’s ever seen, not to mention charming and humorous and smart. Truth be told, he’s attracted to her as well.
Doug’s BlackBerry chimes, indicating he has a new text message, and he reaches into his pocket to check it. A puzzled look crosses his face when he realizes who sent it, and he glances quickly over his shoulder at Philip. “E no longer wearing engagement ring,” Philip’s message reads, and Doug takes a quick peek to confirm it as fact.
Maybe now I have a shot at her, he thinks as a sly grin spreads across his face. “You look like the cat that swallowed the canary,” Elizabeth jokes with him. “What’s up?”
“An expression like that means something,” she replies. “Don’t hold out on me, Doug; what is it?”
“Just some good news, is all.”
“Like what?” she persists. Doug considers her for a moment, then says in a low voice, “It looks like illegal bahis siteleri I have a chance at getting something that I’ve wanted for a very long time.” Something about the tone he uses, in addition to the way he’s looking at her prevents Elizabeth from asking what it is; for some reason it unnerves her, so instead she tells him in a noncommittal tone, “I hope you get it.”
Upon returning to the hotel, the five part ways; Robin and Elizabeth are meeting a former colleague for dinner, while Dan plans to take in a Cubs game with an old friend now living outside Chicago.
* * *
When Robin and Elizabeth enter the hotel bar later that night, they find Dan, Philip and Doug sitting at a corner table with a slender blonde woman. Doug waves them over. “Good evening, ladies,” he says in greeting as they approach the table. “Join us?”
“Sure,” Elizabeth replies with a grin. She sits down next to Doug, and Robin pulls an extra chair over and seats herself. “What’d you do for dinner?” Doug asks them as Philip signals to the server.
“Had some amazing Italian over on Rush Street with someone we used to work with,” Robin explains. “You?”
“Went to a chophouse on Wacker,” Philip replies. “What’ll you have, ladies?” the server asks. Robin orders a glass of pinot grigio, Elizabeth a cabernet. “Where are my manners?” Philip asks. “This is Andrea. She used to cover south Jersey before transferring to Manhattan.” Andrea shakes Robin’s hand then Elizabeth’s. “I thought you looked familiar,” Elizabeth tells her. “I believe you started at Nexys the same time as I did; I seem to remember you from my first training session.”
“I think you’re right,” Andrea replies.
“Are you staying here at the hotel?” Elizabeth asks. Andrea nods in reply then says, “I ran into Doug and Philip at the restaurant, so we shared a cab back here.”
Elizabeth thanks the server as she places a glass of wine in front of her. “How was the game, Dan?” Robin asks, before sipping her wine.
“It was fun. Cubs lost though, three-two,” he says in response. “Could I have another Sam Adams, please?” he asks their server.
“Sure,” she tells him. “Can I get anything for anyone else?”
“May as well get another one,” Doug says. “Jack and Coke for me.”
“Make that two,” Philip adds. “Andrea? Another drink?”
“Sure, I’ll have one more chardonnay.” The six of them spend the next hour chatting amiably about the convention, the ups and downs of working for Nexys … and then move on to more personal discussions.
Doug has never been married. He’s in the process of training for a marathon to benefit breast cancer (his sister’s a survivor, and this is his first), and he’s a food aficionado. “I love to cook,” he admits candidly, “and I’m quite good at it, if I do say so myself.”
“Aren’t you the humble one?” Elizabeth gently teases, with a grin. She too has never been married; she had been engaged but broke it off a year ago (she does not disclose why as the reason still humiliates her). In her spare time she likes to read, work out, and travel, and she’s active in charitable organizations, mainly literacy and animal welfare. Like Doug, she too is a foodie.
Robin has been married for seven years to an attorney and enjoys the lifestyle his lucrative career affords her. In fact, she really doesn’t have to work but likes what she does, especially because it allows her to travel frequently to escape her loveless marriage — her husband is chronically unfaithful — and she’s trying to muster the courage to end it.
Philip divorced his wife three years ago, and is the extremely proud father of an eight-year-old daughter. He shows off her most recent school photo, and Elizabeth comments, “What a pretty girl … she looks exactly like you,” which makes him beam. An avid skier, he’s on the slopes whenever he has free time, and travels to Killington or Jackson Hole every year with a group of friends.
Dan, a tall, rangy man with light brown hair, is married to his high school sweetheart and the father of twin boys. While he loves his wife, he’s found himself bored with his way of life, and is dying to try something different to get out of the rut he’s found himself in.
Andrea separated from her husband a few months ago — they’d grown apart during their ten-year marriage — and she hasn’t had sex since the split. She’s not interested in a relationship right now; she just wants to get laid, to find a man with whom she can have mind-blowing, earth-shaking sex.
With a gusty sigh, Philip finishes his drink. “God, traveling for work really sucks sometimes,” he complains.
“It’s not so bad,” Robin says. “I mean, I’ve gotten to go to some amazing places because of it.”
“Me too,” Andrea agrees.
“It’s not that,” Philip says. “I wish business travel was more fun, more than having fancy dinners every night and making small talk with boring doctors. I need fun and games.”
“What kind of fun and games?” Elizabeth wants to know.
“Something to spice canlı bahis siteleri things up.” A pause, then Philip impulsively adds, courtesy of the Jack and Cokes he’s just consumed, “Like the key game. We could all play the key game together.”
“The what?” Elizabeth asks, with a slightly nervous titter.
“The key game. Swingers play it … you get a few couples together, the men put their key rings in a bowl, and the women each take one. Then they go home with the owner of the key ring. Only in this case, it’s hotel key cards and hotel rooms.” Philip glances around the table, his eyes lingering on Elizabeth’s. “Come on, everybody; live a little.”
“Who knew you were so kinky, Philip?” Robin jokes, while Elizabeth grins impishly. She finishes her wine and says, “I’m in.”
“Me too,” Doug immediately says, reaching into his jacket pocket for his extra key card and handing it to Philip. “Dan? You in?” Philip asks. “Robin? Andrea?” Robin blushes as she nods, while Andrea laughs and says, “Count me in.”
“Why not?” Dan laughs, as he hands Philip his spare card. “Now, ladies,” Philip instructs as he shuffles the cards then places them face down on the table, “we’ll all go to our rooms. When we leave, each of you pick a card and come on up.” And with that, the three men leave the bar.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this!” Andrea laughs, as she selects a card; Robin and Elizabeth follow suit. “I can’t either,” Robin tells her. “But like Philip said, Andrea; live a little.”
* * *
Elizabeth returns to her room to freshen up before heading to room 1451, her room for the night, idly wondering who’ll be waiting for her there.
She rinses her mouth with hot water — she’d brush her teeth but she’s sure more wine will be in the offing — puts a change of panties, deodorant and her toothbrush in her purse, then takes her room key card and his and prepares to leave.
She stops to look at her reflection in the mirror on the wall across from the bathroom door, smiling in anticipation at thoughts of what the night might bring.
She finds herself hoping — rather fervently — that Doug will be behind door number 1451.
* * *
The room Elizabeth enters is completely dark; 80s soft rock is playing on the clock radio whose display unfortunately does not give off enough light for her to see. She’s sure the room is a mirror image of hers, so she isn’t worried that she’ll trip over or run into anything.
The door slams shut behind her, its definitive thud almost seeming to seal her doom, and she instinctively reaches behind herself to throw the deadbolt. Got to lock out the perverts, she jokingly thinks.
Or lock them in. She giggles at this, then walks towards the sleeping area. Her body tenses as she senses someone approaching her; a strong, warm hand seizes her right wrist and she gasps in surprise, then relaxes when she feels a wineglass pressed into her palm. “Thank you,” she whispers gratefully. She attempts to take a sip but with a “shh” and a finger against her lips, the international sign for quiet, he silences her. So this is how it’s going to be, she muses. Well, two can play at that game.
Doug’s pleased to hear her giggle when the door slams shut behind her — he knew it so well, having dreamed of it often — and he’s delighted to know that Fate had delivered her to him for the night.
* * *
Elizabeth can’t tell who she’s with just yet; when he kisses her, she’ll know whether or not it’s Philip, as he is the only one of the three with facial hair.
Dan is tall and slim; if she has to reach up to place her hands on his shoulders and stand on tiptoe to kiss him, she’ll be able to tell she’s with Dan.
Then there’s Doug. In heels she is only an inch or so shorter than he is, and out of the three men he has the best build, so if the man’s she’s with for the night has extremely broad shoulders, she’ll know it’s Doug.
And that’s exactly who she’s hoping for.
He takes her empty wine glass, and she hears a faint “clink” as he puts it down somewhere. Then his hands clamp around her wrists, and she inhales sharply. “Shh,” he commands her, while his thumbs gently caress her skin.
Then he kisses her, softly at first then as time passes his lips move over hers more insistently, and a tiny mewling sound escapes her when she feels his tongue in her mouth. “Please,” she softly begs. “Let go of me … I want to touch you …”
“Shh,” he repeats, then tells her, his voice low so as to disguise it, “Leave your hands where they are.” His refusal to allow her to touch him, coupled with her inability to figure out who he is yet frustrates Elizabeth, but she does as she’s told; her acquiescence makes him wonder if she’ll be as obedient when he gets her in bed, and the thought further incites his desire for her.
Elizabeth shudders in anticipation as Doug’s hands, large and strong, move gently up and down her back. She moves a bit closer to him, drawing a deep breath as she does so, smelling an exhilarating mix of soap and spicy cologne, with an undercurrent of musk that seems (to her, anyway) to belong to very athletic men; this unique scent of his, together with his hands caressing her and the warmth of his body ever-so-close to hers is beginning to turn her on.
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